Iraq

The Iraqi Crackup

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I used to believe the easiest way to extract ourselves from Iraq would probably involve breaking the country into three separate states. Then I realized there was a problem with that approach, one far larger than the familiar questions of how to divide the oil revenue or how to keep Turkey calm in the face of an independent Kurdistan. Toby Dodge pointed it out in September, when Joe Biden was promoting a "soft" partition of the country:

If you look at the three communities that are allegedly going to be partitioned, go down to the supposed Shiistan in the south. What we have in the south is a low-level civil war between the two main Shiite parties led by members of the Badr Brigade and al-Sadr. So, are we going to partition the south into a Badristan and a Sadristan? When we come up to supposed Sunnistan, we have a fight between al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a largely indigenous organization with foreign leadership, and the so-called sheikhs of Anbar—that is an intra-Sunni fight. Then we have Kurdistan. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan fought a vicious civil war in the 1990s, where the KDP actually asked Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard to come in and help them. The idea that we have three neat communities is sociologically and politically illiterate.

For Dodge, this is an argument against partition. For me, it's an argument against carelessly invoking the number three. Iraq is already devolving into far more jurisdictions than that.

The recent reduction in violence reflects both the ugly side of that devolution, as ethnic cleansing runs its course, and the positive side, as local institutions fill the void left by the central state. With no sign of a national political "reconciliation"—the original point of the surge, you may recall—those shaky local institutions are all the Iraqis have to work with.

How should the U.S. react to that? Marc Lynch has been hosting a debate about that very question at his Abu Aardvark site. Here, from the latest post, is Lynch's summary of the points of consensus:

[W]e all basically agree on where Iraq is heading—a highly decentralized state, without a formal or even semi-formal partition, where governance and security is increasingly devolving to localities. Whether this is "federalism" or a "warlord state" is what is in question; a strong central democratic state rooted in a general consensus on political identity and norms is off the table. Whether we state it or not, we all seem to expect that the formal Iraqi state will likely remain governed by the existing political rules, meaning a monopoly of the major Shia parties supported by a deal to leave the Kurds alone in exchange for their votes. We all agree that the situation in the Shia areas is beyond American control and likely to remain violent, fragmented and unstable. And none of us think that there will be any national level political accomodation. Never mind that the situation just described used to be defined as "failure"—the important issue here now, as Kahl and Katulis agree, is how to respond to this lousy scenario to best protect American (and Iraqi?) interests.

My one contribution to the discussion: Is there anything to learn from Somalia's experience? Virtually everyone predicted the Somali civil war would worsen when the U.S. pulled out. But it didn't take long for the pent-up violence to run its course, and the country (if we can still call it that) soon reached a relatively peaceful equilibrium, with a political system that fell somewhere on the spectrum between anarcho-capitalism and a collection of mafia fiefdoms. It wasn't ideal, but it also wasn't nearly as violent as the civil war had been—at least until recently, when the war on terror undermined the emerging social order.

Iraq is not Somalia. But Somalia shows that local reconciliation can have positive effects even when national unity is impossible—and that sometimes it's easier to reconcile when outside troops aren't around. At this point in the Iraq war the U.S. has no good options, but withdrawal looks far better than all the others.

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  1. I think it would be good to go with a checkerboard pattern of dividing up Iraq.

  2. A 3-state solution implemented by us would never work, but a 3-state or 4-state order might arise naturally after we leave, if we leave quickly and amicably.

    It’s a great suggestion for us to give as we walk out the door, but that’s about it.

  3. I think it would be good to go with a checkerboard pattern of dividing up Iraq.

    Good idea. Iraq is already a checkerboard of ruins and unbombed areas, why not extend that motif into statecraft?

  4. It’s a great suggestion for us to give as we walk out the door, but that’s about it.

    I agree.

  5. It’s a great suggestion for us to give as we walk out the door, but that’s about it.

    Right. Seeing as we are supposedly libertarians here, we should be more inclined to see organic, ground-up structuring that is not imposed by a central or outside authority.

    Let them create their own equilibrium instead of trying to impose it.

    Plus, lots of small states/areas tend to cause less problems than bigger, more powerful ones that can get ambitious or aggressive. When’s the last time Luxembourg caused anybody trouble?

  6. a 3-state or 4-state order might arise naturally

    To the extent civil war an ethnic cleansing are the natural condition of man, I would agree.

    Plus, lots of small states/areas tend to cause less problems than bigger, more powerful ones that can get ambitious or aggressive.

    See, e.g., Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Lebanon. Or, for the historically inclined, the Balkans.

  7. Wow, this type of option is so much better than what Iraq was like before we toppled Saddam’s regime.

    Terrorists will never be able to gain a foothold in any of these potential fiefdoms.

    And I am sure the local warlords won’t be horrific people in the way Saddam was.

    So this is what a successful strategy to combat terrorism and protect our national interests looks like.

  8. Maybe we could get a dictator like Musharraf to hold Iraq together. Where could we find somebody like that?

  9. I think one problem with commentary on Iraq is the assumption that “if only we figure out the right ‘solution’, (1 state? 3 state? 4 state?) then the violence could end”

    There is an assumption that a) there is a rational solution, and b) if we (americans) can find it, it can be implemented. Im not sure thats how it works at this point. Anything the US helps ‘Implement’ will by definition be suspected as a tool to manipulate the country – and be stripped down the second we leave. The Shia are going to fight to keep what they’ve got (nominal political control, large swaths of the country, massive oil resources, most of the national ministries)… nothing will come to equilibrium until they’ve all fought themselves to a standstill. Not before then. I dont think enough people recognize that there’s very little if anything the US can do to control eventual outcomes. We can lurk around there and perpetuate the existance of the “insurgents/foreign fighters”, or we can leave, and let all of them hack it out among themselves. Ironically, the “al quaeda” types would be the first to be killed by the Iraqis – they tolerate them to some degree now because they fight the Americans…but once the US is gone, Iraqi nationalists will not want these jihadis around to tell them what to do or threaten their consolidation of power.

    Toby puts it well =

    we don’t have a failing state or a collapsed state-we simply don’t have a state

    I think people who assume we can “make one”, or offer Iraqis a model are naive. A state come into being only after they’ve tried everything else short of national suicide. (e.g. officially bringing Iran into south, war with turkey, etc)

  10. good idea, Jesse.

    also, can you stop all these damn yankees coming to Florida?

    thanks

  11. Let’s keep in mind our own development as a stable, liberal, cohesive democracy, which also started at the local level. Town meetings, state assemblies, and eventually, elected governors and the national executive and legislature – the last two originally being elected by representatives of the states (at least the Senate), and only later turning (de jure and more or less defacto) towards public, democratic elections.

    For there to be a democracy, there must be a “state” – whatever its extend – that has jurisdiction over what people feel is a community they belong to, and feel responsibility and solidarity with towards the other residents/citizens of that state.

    I think they’ve Jesse and Lynch have it just right.

    Not to mention, the decision to arm the anti-government Anbar Sheiks is a devolution to local control, and since it was unquestionably necessary and can’t be undone, any plan going forward will have to take that reality into account.

  12. Legitimacy is key. Any state we set up from the outside, be it centralized, federalized, or partitioned will NOT be accepted until power is seized or compromises are made by native groups/parties/sects/whatever.

    There is nothing we can do but let them kill each other and attempt to contain it from spreading to other countries.

  13. Great idea Jesse

    Plus, can you stop all these damn white men from coming to Florida?

  14. To the extent civil war an ethnic cleansing are the natural condition of man, I would agree. The civil war and ethnic cleansing that have happened in Iraq took place under the auspices of a unified Iraqi state – first under Saddam, and then under us. Trying to force them together, trying to force the different groups/regions to submit to a centralized authority brought this about.

  15. Great idea Jesse

    Plus, can you suggest how we might finally get rid of all the stupid rednecks in Florida?

  16. Maybe we could get a dictator like Musharraf to hold Iraq together. Where could we find somebody like that?

    When we leave, someone will volunteer to “save the nation”. Bet on it.

  17. R.C. Dean,

    The Roman Empire was a large state and it was constantly invading other states, suppressing revolts, etc. even during the so-called Pax Romana. Indeed, I could cherry pick a number of examples of aggressive, tyranical large states.

  18. I too supported a three state solution for a number of reasons. …before the first election.

    Among them, holding disparate groups together that don’t want to be together–in that part of the world and elsewhere–seems to require a nasty, centralized dictatorship, much like Saddam Hussein’s. …either that or some kind of colonial occupation.

    “…a strong central democratic state rooted in a general consensus on political identity and norms is off the table.”

    It never was on the table.

    It was in the minds of intellectuals and pundits who supported the invasion. It was in the airwaves of talk radio. It was in the President’s talking points, and it was in the hearts of those who supported the President in spite of the facts…

    …but it was never on the table. …not after the results of the first election came in.

  19. I have no idea how Iraq should be organized or divided. I wish that there were a way for a stable division or organization or whatever to arise nonviolently. I suspect that’s impossible. The violence will continue until an equilibrium (and probably an illiberal one) is reached.

    I wish there were a way for somebody, anybody, to bring about a liberal equilibrium with little or no violence. But I just don’t see it happening. At least not via outside intervention.

    We should leave. That’s all we can do.

  20. GILMORE, I don’t think this idea represents an American imposition of a political model, so much as an American recognition of the political situation that already exists in Iraq.

    Let’s not forget, in 2003 the Anbar shieks approached our forces and offered their alliance against foreign jihadis, and were told that “there is not place for them in the New Iraq.” The local leadership represents the organic political structure that existed in Iraq before us, before Saddam, before there was an Iraq, and before there was an Ottoman Empire even.

  21. “There is nothing we can do but let them kill each other and attempt to contain it from spreading to other countries….”

    …and we’ll call it the “Thunderdome Solution” so it should do well for the focus groups. / snark

  22. Has anyone considered selling Iraq on eBay? Maybe in blocks of ten square kilometers?

  23. See, e.g., Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Lebanon. Or, for the historically inclined, the Balkans.

    Israel/Palestine: two mutually-hostile national groups under a common state dominated by the larger and better armed of the two.

    Lebanon: Seven and a half million (plus or minus) mutually hostile religious/ethnic groups under a common state constantly struggling for advantage.

    The Balkans: Before World War I, as part of the Hapsburg Empire, seven and a half million (plus or minus) mutually hostile national groups under a common state dominated by the wealthiest, most powerful group; ended with global bloodletting brought on by a secessionist movement by a national minority. Between World War I and World War II: several different states living more or less at peace. World War II: an orgy of bloodletting brought about by an attempt by the most powerful country in the neighborhood to unify the rest. World War II – 1990: numerous different states, no wars, but the one polyglot state in the region held together by force. 1990-1999: an orgy of bloodletting in Yugoslavia as the largest and most power nation therein attempted to keep the smaller ones from seceeding. 1999 – present: peace among the distinct nation-states, but hostility between the largest, most powerful group in Serbia and a nationalist minority.

  24. We should leave. That’s all we can do.

    Yes, and with a meek “sorry” on our way out. I don’t see that happening under anyone likely to get elected President any time soon. It’s in our nature to meddle, and if we fuck it up, to meddle some more in an attempt to “fix” it.

    BTW, wasn’t it just yesterday or the day before that Dondero or someone was chiding us for not acknowledging all the positive stuff happening in Iraq now?

  25. “Plus, can you suggest how we might finally get rid of all the stupid rednecks in Florida?”

    Small pox blankets?

  26. joe,

    I’m not sure if I see your forest for your trees.

    joe and Syloson,

    I think RC’s point is that dividing up Iraq is no panacea for peace in the region, and I’ll grant him that. Whether the odds lean more one way or another I’d find hard to say, and I’d wonder what good historical precedent even does us.

    Jesse,

    a political system that [falls] somewhere on the spectrum between anarcho-capitalism and a collection of mafia fiefdoms

    I’d venture to say those are not on different spots of a “spectrum” but instead are likely one and the same! Choose wisely, anarchist! 🙂 Whether it’s an enviable model or not is another matter, and perhaps present day Somalia doesn’t compare so badly with its period of more conventional statehood….

  27. Has anyone considered selling Iraq on eBay? Maybe in blocks of ten square kilometers?

    Do the blocks include mineral rights?

  28. Joe: Perhaps I’m misreading you, but I think you might be conflating my views with Lynch’s. I have a more positive (if that’s the right word) view of this devolution than he does. Interestingly, he and I both favor withdrawal, while the person in the Abu Aardvark debate who was least pessimistic about the devolution thinks the US should keep some forces in the country to help guide the process.

    Fyodor: I was waiting for someone to make that anarchy crack… What I was getting at is that there were areas in Somalia that were basically mini-states and there were areas that were essentially stateless.

  29. fyodor,

    My point is that stable, decent governments depend upon their citizens conceiving of themselves as a cohesive group. The people need to see everyone else under that government’s jurisdiction as “us,” because if there is an “us” and a “them,” there will be a struggle for dominance. The best way to achieve stable, decent government in Iraq is to recognize the jurisdiction of political bodies that consists of cohesive groupos. Right now, this exists in Iraq at the local level, just as it did in the American colonies circa 1690. A few decades later, a political identity based around colonies/states arose from this order. Later, an identity based around the USA arose from that order. And the formation of political entities with the power to govern followed these changes in identity.

    Jumping to a level of governance larger than the group that people consider to be part of “us” is a recipe for sectarian strife.

  30. It’s amazing how much criticism there has been over the years of Woodrow Wilson and his grand schemes for Europe, and yet we never really seem to learn, do we?

  31. The Iraq Freedom Congress (http://www.ifcongress.com/English/index.htm ) is a libertarian, secularist,non-violent, democratic, and progressive group that opposes Ba’athism, Islamism, and nationalism — as well as the US invasion/occupation.

    The Iraq Freedom Congress has organized a self-defense Safety Force that patrols neighborhoods in Iraq (population: 5,000) and has reduced sectarian violence there to zero. However, far from supporting this effort, US forces have assassinated the head of these Safety Forces (http://tinyurl.com/25yknr ).

    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

  32. Jumping to a level of governance larger than the group that people consider to be part of “us” is a recipe for sectarian strife.

    That makes sense. Whether Iraq remains one nation, or gets divided into 3, or 4, or 5, or 6, or whatever, a lot of power will have to rest with existing local structures in order for the thing to function.

    The problem is that while people might not view other people in distant areas as “us”, they view distant areas as “ours” if those distant areas have oil. And there’s a lot of oil.

    Not to mention the problem of mixed locales.

    I have no idea what to do about these problems, but I know that we are incapable of providing the solutions.

  33. Jimmy Durante alway used to say: “Everybody wants to get into the act.”
    Ron Paul is the only candidate recommending that we stay the hell out of “acts.”

  34. Indeed, I could cherry pick a number of examples of aggressive, tyranical large states.

    No question. I just didn’t want the easy equation of small states = peace to go unchallenged.

    The term “balkanized” is not a compliment, you know.

  35. I dunno. Redrawing the borders and creating new states has worked so well in the past that I can’t imagine it not working again now. May I suggest some names?
    Retardistan. Carbombistan. Ameristan.

  36. Sure, let’s leave. Iran can have Shiistan and Turkey will be thrilled to border what is in effect Kurdistan. And the sunni’s won’t need any regional assistance to stave off Shii retribution for Saddam’s evils. Yea, despite real progress, we should abandon hopes for reconciliation, pack up and go home. Leaving now doesn’t sound like the recipe for stability to me.

  37. ed,

    The point is, we don’t redraw the map. We accomodate what the Iraqis come up with themselves.

  38. Kurdlahoma!

  39. Two Ms! Two!

  40. Fine, we’ll macomodote them.

    I mean “themm.”

  41. Yea, despite real progress, we should abandon hopes for reconciliation, pack up and go home. Leaving now doesn’t sound like the recipe for stability to me.

    Just pointing out the obvious and overlooked. Iraq was stable until March 20, 2003. Not paradise, not a representative democracy with respect for human rights, but stable.

    How long will we have to stay there until Iraq gets stable again? Nobody really believes that representative democracy with respect for human rights stuff anymore. How long? How many lives? An estimate please. Oh yeah, what did we do this for, anyway?

  42. Why do we care whether a certain sector of the world is stable?
    We don’t try to stabilize hurricanes and typhoons. We just try to stay out of their way. They blow over and blow out.

  43. We accomodate what the Iraqis come up with themselves.

    That’s fine, but which “Iraqis”?

  44. At the risk of republicans taking me seriously, why don’t we just…colonize Iraq? There’s oil, so plenty of money to be made. Get millions of Americans to move to Iraq (Give them cash, land and tax breaks; it would have to be cheaper than our current approach) and start paving the earth, slapping up Wal-Marts, and if any uppity Iraqis get in our way, we put them on reservations.

    C’mon, it’s worked before…

  45. ed,

    This is an article about devolution to locally-recognized authorities.

    We don’t have to pick “which Iraqis.” Each community gets to pick for itself.

  46. J sub D, Oil. Ruthless, being the world’s largest consumer of oil, watching from the sidelines isn’t going to be painless. You think $100 a barrell is going to hurt our economy? try $150 or $200.

  47. Each community gets to pick for itself

    That will be fun to watch. They can emulate Palestine.

  48. James Ard,
    The price of oil would be lower today, if the US had never had a policy of anthropomorphizing and coddling it.

  49. joe | November 15, 2007, 1:15pm | #
    GILMORE, I don’t think this idea represents an American imposition of a political model, so much as an American recognition of the political situation that already exists in Iraq.

    Already exists?

    Either you mean tribal blood vendettas, or the hypercorrupt authoritarianism thing?

    Whatever. My point was that whatever WE decide, it wont influence final outcomes significantly…simply change the speed at which reorganization of whatever kind takes place

  50. Could we hypnotize the Iraqi population and implant a suggestion that they are, in fact, Canadians?

  51. Could we hypnotize the Iraqi population and implant a suggestion that they are, in fact, Canadians?

    So the Sunnis could emulate the Quebecois? We’d be right back where we started.

    Iraq was stable until March 20, 2003.

    The stability of the grave, you mean.

    In any event, that kind of stability is more a postponement and leveraging of instability. Not a long-term solution.

  52. Oh yeah, what did we do this for, anyway?

    To kill AQ and its allies. That part is working rather well, actually. Shame about the collateral damage, but, you know, omelettes, eggs, etc.

  53. I was thinking more Ontario.

  54. Pro Libertate | November 15, 2007, 4:36pm | #
    Could we hypnotize the Iraqi population and implant a suggestion that they are, in fact, Canadians?

    The lack of suitable ice-hockey facilities (not to mention decent beer) would drive the population into a religious/suicidal campaign that would be virtually indistinguishable from the current sectarian conflict

    the main difference would be that they’d start pronouncing arabic with a weird “o” sound, and end sentences with “ey?”

  55. “C’mon, it’s worked before…”

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by “worked”.

    Surely you don’t mean we should do to the Iraqis what we did to Native Americans?

  56. GILMORE,

    Oil wealth can provide for many indoor hockey arenas. It can also acquire plenty of Russian hockey players.

    As for beer, maybe the Germans could send some, to help out.

  57. I don’t know where to begin with the ignorance displayced by this post. Perhaps I should just begin and end by pointing out that Somalia hadn’t settled into some kind of reasonable situation until the evil “war on terror” made it bad again. On the contrary, the Islamic Courts had taken over the country and were busily turning into a totalitarian Islamic state. Something I thought libertarians were supposed to oppose… In any event, a precipitate withdrawal of U.S. troops would most likely lead to far greater violence then exists now, and would lead to a far greater chance of the erection of another totalitarian Islamic state. To put it simply, we are currently winning the war. Let’s not stop until it’s fully won.

  58. Matt | November 15, 2007, 7:33pm | #
    … In any event, a precipitate withdrawal of U.S. troops would most likely lead to far greater violence then exists now, and would lead to a far greater chance of the erection of another totalitarian Islamic state. To put it simply, we are currently winning the war. Let’s not stop until it’s fully won.

    Right. Your background in military history is what now?

    What were the war’s goals, and what do we need to do to leave? The stated goals keep changing, and the presence of US troops arent affecting the overall situation much more than policing an existing clusterfuck.

    also, you mean ‘precipitous’. The word means ‘unprepared’. Given that we’ve been there for 4 years, the word hardly applies. Did we invade because it was going to become an ‘islamist safe haven’? It wasnt. It is now. If we leave, the argument that it will be more so is tenuous. Iraqis have little interest in international jihadism. Leaving may lead to escalated violence, but not necessarily violence that affects US interests better or worse than they are now. Define “fully won”, define the actions the MILITARY takes to get there, and then i’ll take you seriously.

  59. “In any event, a precipitate withdrawal of U.S. troops would most likely lead to far greater violence then exists now, and would lead to a far greater chance of the erection of another totalitarian Islamic state.”

    Funny thing–I remember citing the exact same thing as a reason not to invade.

    “To put it simply, we are currently winning the war. Let’s not stop until it’s fully won.

    You mean until the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq has fully won? …’cause that’s who we seem to be fighting for.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supreme_Council_for_the_Islamic_Revolution_in_Iraq

  60. Perhaps I should just begin and end by pointing out that Somalia hadn’t settled into some kind of reasonable situation until the evil “war on terror” made it bad again. On the contrary, the Islamic Courts had taken over the country and were busily turning into a totalitarian Islamic state.

    The Islamic courts didn’t appear out of nowhere, Matt. The U.S. was, as part of the “war on terror,” covertly aiding some of the warlords. That stoked a resurgence in the violence. And then, in reaction to the fighting, the Islamists’ power swelled.

    To put it simply, we are currently winning the war.

    Give me a break.

  61. It’s probably been said before, but if an armed society is a polite society, Somalia and Iraq must be the politest damned places on Earth. (yeah, yeah, and Switzerland too).

  62. If definitions of the US “winning” in Iraq are so hard to come by, I have a question. Honestly, I’d like to hear someone describe what what “victory” in Iraq would constitute for our enemies.

    This is a serious question. If we have lost the war in Iraq, then who won, and what did they win?

  63. RC Dean

    Nobody has ‘won’. We’ve wasted a trillion dollars and thousands of lives for a piece of poltical story-telling

  64. R.C. Dean,

    The U.S. lost the war to the Iraqis. Now that may seem like a rather odd thing to say, but they are the ones calling the shots there now. Indeed, the whole reason that there might be peace in any particular area is largely due to their willingness to bring that about. Now what that means depends on the locale in question. But one thing is for sure, the Iraqis are now in the driver’s seat.

  65. OK, this week, the reason to invade Iraq was T”o kill AQ and its allies.”

    Got that?

    Not liberation from the Ba’athists. Not WMDs. Not the establishment of a democratic state in Iraq.

    No, we went into a country which contained neither al Qaeda nor its allies, in order to kill al Qaeda and its allies.

    Next week, we’ll be back to the Reverse Domino effect. The week after that, we rotate back to WMDs.

    Please update your calenders accordingly.

    If we have lost the war in Iraq, then who won, and what did they win?

    We didn’t “lose.” Our policy failed. The situation is comparable to Prohibition – we gave it a shot, it became apparent to the true believers that it was a fool’s mission, so we stopped. Al Capone didn’t “win,” and the government didn’t “lose.”

  66. If the primary objective of the war was to decrease the threat of terrorist collaboration with the state, particularly as it pertains to WMD, and we somehow increased that threat to the American people, then I would consider that a failure. (…and bringing a huge swath of Iraq under the influence of a potentially nuclear, state sponsor of terror like Iran would seem to fit that description.)

    If one of the objectives was to eliminate a totalitarian regime as a threat to the region and we established an Islamist state that became an even greater threat to the stability of the region, then I would also consider that a failure.

    If one of the objectives was to liberate the Iraqi people, to better their lives, and what we did instead was to destroy their society, kill hundreds of thousands of them, displace millions more and see them fight it out in a bloody, Balkan style civil war, then I would consider that a failure.

    I’ll say this–it does seem to me that Iraq may have been more of a success than Vietnam. One of the objectives in Iraq was to topple Saddam Hussein, and no one can say we didn’t do that. In Iraq, we probably won’t be scrambling to bug out as the enemy crashes through the outskirts of Baghdad like we did in Hanoi. We can leave on our own terms although I don’t know what those terms should be.

    If the next President said, “We can bring all the troops home once we’re achieved ________.”, I don’t know what to put in that blank that’s realistically achievable that we haven’t already done. Realistically, what could we insert in that blank that would justify declaring success and bringing our troops home?

    It seems to me like the best mark of success left to us may be just bringing our troops home.

  67. “a strong central democratic state rooted in a general consensus on political identity and norms is off the table.”

    Again, I think people are trying to use that to fill in the blank. I think people think that “We can bring all the troops home once we’ve achieved a strong central democratic state rooted in a general consensus on political identity and norms.” …but that’s a pipe dream.

    It was always a dream. It was a dream before we invaded but it’s been a pipe dream since at least the first Iraqi election. Coming from some at that top, it may have been a willful misrepresentation at least since the Iraqi constitution, but among the American people, I think they just don’t understand who the good guys are in Iraq–who it is we’re fighting for.

    If we weren’t trying to justify the sacrifices made and being made by our troops, we’d think of the Islamist militias we’re fighting to legitimize as the very enemy in the War on Terror. Who it is that we’re fighting to legitimize, that very well may be the most underreported story right now.

  68. “””This is a serious question. If we have lost the war in Iraq, then who won, and what did they win?”””

    We didn’t lose, or haven’t lost. The war has been over for the most part. We are now engaged in a policing action, which no one wants to admit. Keeping the citizens safe is not an element of war, it’s a policeman’s job. We are playing cop because the Iraqis are currently inept at the task, though they should get better over time. How much time is an important question. America should not have to pay billions to keep Iraqis safe, the Iraqis should foot that bill. When is Congress going to recognize that? The Republicans are willing to hand our checkbook to Iraq, and the Dem couldn’t frame an arugment if they were standing in an art supply store. They are trying to play hardball with the purse to withdrawl troops, they should be reducing the amount of funds and claim it’s past time for the Iraqis to pay the bill.

    Winners?
    I want to say the Iraqi people since Saddam has been removed, but they spoiled their own victory by turning against each other. Iran is certainly a winner, they now have more influence in Iraq, more so in Southern Iraq. Saddam would have never let that happen.
    America as the winner? If adopting Iraq into our welfare system is winning, then we’ve won. If removing Saddam is the metric, we won long ago.

  69. Maybe we could get a dictator like Musharraf to hold Iraq together. Where could we find somebody like that?

    I hear they had a candidate, but he suffered spontaneous neck failure.

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